The Greatest Biblical Villain - Who Was King Nebuchadnezzar?

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The Greatest Biblical Villain - Who Was King Nebuchadnezzar?

King Nebuchadnezzar was the greatest and most powerful of all the Babylonia kings. His name means “Oh Nabu (a Babylonian god), protect my son (or my boundary), according to the New International Encyclopedia of Bible Characters.

The great and powerful king wrestled with his own sovereignty compared to the God of Israel through a series of dreams. He went from crown prince to king in 605-562 BC, the approximate time the Babylonian army captured Jerusalem, taking the prophet Daniel as one of the hostages. King Nebuchadnezzar’s path crossed both the prophets Daniel and Jeremiah in his lifetime, both who carried important messages for God’s people about the New Covenant (the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ). Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams also had many correlations to the book of Revelation, later penned by the apostle John. Our God is purposeful, weaving His authoritative hand throughout all of human history, including the life of this storied Babylonian king.

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Where is Nebuchadnezzar mentioned in the Bible?

King Nebuchadnezzar is mentioned in the Old Testament books of 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. However he is spoken of most in the book of Daniel. He is first introduced in 2 Kings 24, amidst a crop of corrupt kings of Judah. Eventually, the Babylonian army destroyed and took captive all survivors, fulfilling the prophet Jeremiah’s warnings, and God’s disciplinary action of His people.

The exile of the Jews

“As the Lord had declared, Nebuchadnezzar removed all the treasures from the temple of the Lord and from the royal palace, and took away all the gold articles that Solomon kind of Israel had made from the temple of the LORD. He carried into exile all Jerusalem: all the officers and fighting meant, and all the craftsmen and artisan - a total of ten thousand. Only the poorest people of the land were left” (2 Kings 24:13-14).

Nebuchadnezzar’s conquering of Jerusalem is an important part of the history of God’s people. He had been faithful to fulfill His covenant to them, but the people continued to rebel. Good Father that He is, the discipline for their constant waywardness was exile. Amidst the doom and gloom, the Weeping Prophet was called to deliver a glimmer of hope. Jeremiah prophesied of the New Covenant in the Book of Consolation (Jeremiah 30-33).

Though they would remain in exile for 70 years, upon their return, they would have hope to hold onto. Jeremiah 30:3 says, “’The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will bring my people Israel and Judah back from captivity and restore them to the land I gave their ancestors to possess.’”

Not only did God promise to bring them back, Jeremiah 31:33 says, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” God would, again, faithfully lead them out of exile, not only physically, but spiritually through the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Daniel interpreted his dreams

Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream consisting of an image made up of differing metals in Daniel 2:31-45. The four metals represent Babylon, Medo-Peria, Greece, and Rome. The different kingdoms represented in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream are often compared to the prophesies of the book of Revelation. Daniel explained to the king that the statue represented four successive kingdoms based upon power and wealth, beginning in Babylon. The stone and mountain signified a kingdom established by God which would never be destroyed nor given to another people.

Even the great King Nebuchadnezzar did not have endless wisdom at his disposal to render the meaning of his dream. “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries,” the kind responded, “for you were able to reveal this mystery” (Daniel 2:47).  Daniel prayed, sought wise counsel, remained humble, and trusted God even when he could not see what outcome would be.  

The fiery furnace

“There are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon — Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego — who pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:12).

King Nebuchadnezzar, in an arrogant rage, ordered the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than usual, killing the soldiers who took Daniel and his friends to be tossed into the fire. Daniel 3:25 says, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” Daniel and his friends did not even smell like fire when they emerged from the furnace. Jesus only manifests himself inside the furnace at the very moment when they most needed to see him.

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Two big things to know about Nebuchadnezzar

1. Nebuchadnezzar was punished for his pride and vanity

Daniel interpreted another dream for the king, this time about a tree. Daniel warned Nebuchadnezzar, “Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed” (Daniel 4:27). The NIV Quest Bible explains Nebuchadnezzar’s sins to be more than just attacking nations and killing, torturing and deporting their people. His own people lived in poverty amongst his vast palace and elaborate building projects, including the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

But in the king’s arrogance he did not heed Daniels interpretation or his warning, and the dream came to fruition. “He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until this hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird” (Daniel 4:33).

Proverbs 16:5 says “The Lord detests the proud; they will surely be punished." 

In his devotional “Daily Hope,” Rick Warren says “success is one of the most important tests God give us before he increases our responsibility, and if we become prideful, then we haven’t passed the test.” Though his own people lived in mud huts, King Nebuchadnezzar had his name imprinted on most of the city building bricks, found in ruins of Babylon.

“The portrait that emerges is of a highly intelligent and sophisticated monarch, but equally of angry despot whose ego was as vast as his power,” according to the New International Encyclopedia of Bible Characters. When Daniel and his friends would not bow down to worship his statue, he became enraged.

Of the dream of the tree, the king claimed, “Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor” (Daniel 4:30). In an instant, God humbled him. Nebuchadnezzar’s pride blinded him to the source of his success.

2. He is credited with building the famous Hanging Gardens

He is also credited with building the Hanging Gardens, one of the wonders of the ancient world. The gardens were located near the royal palace and were set upon vaulted terraces, watered by an irrigation system, according to this Encyclopedia Britannica entry. Nebuchadnezzar is said to have built them to console his Median wife, Amytis, because she missed the mountains and the greenery of her homeland.

Even a prideful man like Nebuchadnezzar had compassion on his homesick wife and designed a garden to resemble a mountain! Of all his earthly accomplishments, that is the one dubbed a wonder of the world – the one that came from the compassionate part of his heart.

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God's hand on Nebuchadnezzar's life

“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble”(Daniel 4:37).

Though it can’t be unequivocally proven that Nebuchadnezzar professed complete belief in the God of Israel, he certainly acknowledged God throughout is life. Through the dreams Daniel interpreted for him, coupled with his life experiences of the fiery furnace and his seven years of insanity, Nebuchadnezzar had been humbled by His creator enough to acknowledge there was a God sovereign over himself.

“In all these various historical and prophetic uses, it becomes clear that even a world ruler like Nebuchadnezzar is used to accomplish the sovereign purposes of the LORD God in history, especially His judgement” says the New International Encyclopedia of Bible Characters. Our sovereign God uses the life and lessons of Nebuchadnezzar to this day, in order to sanctify our own hearts, constantly tempted to swell with self-sufficient pride.

Through Nebuchadnezzar’s life, we are brought face to face with our own mortality and human frailties. No matter how brilliant, successful, and godly we are, God still reigns. We are not in control of the world and the way He has it set to spin. However, if He can use Nebuchadnezzar’s life, consumed with pride and destruction, He can surely use ours.

The New Covenant that followed the return of the exiles ushered in a new hope. When we are brought low, either by our own prideful and sinful ways, at the hand of someone else or simply because of the fallen world we live in, we have eternal hope in the New Covenant. We can study the dreams Daniel interpreted alongside the inspired words of the apostle John. We can take comfort in God’s living and active word, an open line of prayer and presence, and His Son living in us. What a hope we have, despite our rebellious nature.

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Meg writes about everyday life within the love of Christ. She stepped out of her comfort zone, and her Marketing career, to obey God’s call to stay home and be “Mom” in 2011. From that step of obedience her blog, Sunny&80, was born, a way to retain the funny everyday moments of motherhood. ( Meg is also a freelance writer and author of “Friends with Everyone.”  She loves teaching God’s Word and leading her Monday morning Bible study, being a mom, distance running and photography. Meg resides in Northern Ohio with her husband, two daughters, and Golden-Doodle … all avid Cleveland Browns fans.